Local Food Movement

150 Faces of YYC Growers ~ Local Food Movement

Ever heard of urban farming? What about the local food movement? There’s been a lot going on to increase awareness about eating local and supporting local producers & makers. Hubby and I are proud to a part of YYC Growers and Distributors through our small farm business, Happiness By The Acre. YYC Growers is a farmer/producer owned cooperative here in Calgary, with the vision for sustainable food that is delicious, healthy, fresh and supports community issues like environmental footprints, food security & food democracy.

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From Weed To Yummy

Confession: Our backyard is a sea of dandelions.

They’ve taken over any area that we left as lawn. In past years, we tried pulling, mowing, even spraying them with vinegar (we refuse to spray any chemicals). This year, I’ve given up and I’m treating them like just another crop to harvest.

Dandelions are such a cheerful thing to harvest.
Dandelions are such a cheerful thing to harvest.

Here’s some tips I’ve found handy so far:

  • If using the greens, harvest fresh or no more than a day before. They keep in the fridge, but they really are best eaten as soon as possible.
  • When preparing to de-petal the dandelions, pick them no more than a couple hours prior. They are easiest to de-petal when the blossom is big and open. Dandelion blossoms tend to close up and wilt very quickly. In general, I pick a big bowl of blossoms right before making dinner and then 2-3 hours later, after Sam heads to bed, I get comfy on the couch & start to de-petal the blossoms. You can still de-petal dandelions even after they close up, but it’s just a trickier task.
  • Dandelion petals can be frozen! Once you de-petal the blossoms, pop them into a freezer bag or container (I measured out 1 cup bags). This makes life easier when you want to tackle bigger dandelion projects (like dandelion wine) or if you only have a small crop of dandelions and therefore have to combine multiple harvest days to accumulate enough petals.
  • I tried washing the dandelion blossoms, letting them dry, and then de-petaling. It was kind of a fail. Now I don’t even worry about washing the blossoms to de-petal them. You can clean off any bugs you come across while you de-petal each one. Our yard is chemical free, and pet-free, so I just don’t worry about it. I do wash the greens in cold water after I harvest them (just treat them like any other salad greens).
  • I choose to wear rubber gloves while de-petaling. Besides my struggle with eczema on my hands, I just don’t love the sticky, &  yellow stain mess that is involved with de-petaling. Even with pumice soap, it’s tricky stuff to get off. Then again, I spend a couple hours at a time de-petaling, so maybe if you’re only doing small batches, it wouldn’t be so bad 😉
  • Fact: Children love to play with dandelions. They are an easy crop to teach kids to harvest. Sam has really enjoyed helping me pull off blossoms. Even got him de-petaling for a little bit one afternoon. So dandelion harvest time can definitely be a kid friendly task.
Dandelion petals ready to be frozen.
Dandelion petals ready to be frozen.

There are lots of interesting things to make out of dandelions. There’s a good collection of ideas & recipes on The Prairie Homestead blog. I started out simple, just making come dandelion green salads. There’s really no end of possibilities when it comes to salad combinations. Just think of some of your favourite salads or dressings, and add or substitute dandelion greens. For example, I love broccoli salad, but there’s no broccoli ready to harvest in the backyard, so I used dandelion greens instead, added my usual raisins, nuts, and cream dressing. Viola! I tend to like adding sweet things to salads made with dandelion greens, just to cut the slight bitterness of the leaves. I’m thinking strawberries and sunflower seeds next time around or maybe a sweet rhubarb dressing. Just have fun experimenting with it!

Dandelion green salad with fresh chives, raisins and pumpkin seeds. I made a simple creamy dressing of mayo, vinegar & a touch of sugar.
Dandelion green salad with fresh chives, raisins and pumpkin seeds. I made a simple creamy dressing of mayo, vinegar & a touch of sugar.
Dandelion green salad with fresh chives. I simmered dried apricots and prunes with coconut oil and a bit of water to form the dressing. Sooooo tasty!
Dandelion green salad with fresh chives. I simmered dried apricots and prunes with coconut oil and a bit of water to form the dressing. Sooooo tasty!

There are several things I want to try making with the dandelion blossoms and petals, including syrup, fried blossoms, and wine (if I’m super ambitious one week). We made dandelion cookies this week from some of the fresh petals. They were yummy and a hit with Sam. I used a recipe from the Dinner For Everyone blog. Since they are basically oatmeal cookies with dandelion petals, I want to try adding raisins to them next time around.

Cookies made from dandelion petals. Yummy, but next time I'm going to add some raisins.
Cookies made from dandelion petals. Yummy, but next time I’m going to add some raisins.

Have you ever done anything with dandelion greens or blossoms? Would love to hear about it! Also, should let you know that if you happen to be one of those lucky folks who don’t suffer from dandelion invasions in your yard (or don’t have a yard), chances are you can purchase dandelion greens from your local urban farmer or grocery store. Here in Calgary, you can check out the YYC Growers & Distributors booth at some of their upcoming farmers’ markets. Some of the greens you purchase from them might just be from our yard.

Into the Ground

It’s almost been a full week since our Happiness By the Acre Tree Planting Day out on the farm. Still feels like we’re recovering here or maybe it’s just that we’re still “on the go” so much that last weekend feels like a blur. I’m hoping that things get a little less hectic in the coming weeks, not just for my sake, but for Sammy’s. He sure has been a trooper, but some of the craziness is taking its toll.

We had an AMAZING turnout for the Tree Planting Day!! Loved that so many of our friends brought their little kiddos along too! It was a great way to share the day and build some of our first memories of the farm. We really appreciated each and every effort made by our volunteer team, big and small. There is NO WAY we could have gotten this project done without the help of family and friends. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! We will not forget the smiles or the sweat that went into planting our one acre of food forest.

Food and hand wash station (we tried to keep everyone hydrated and their bellies full)
Food and hand wash station (we tried to keep everyone hydrated and their bellies full)
This is the first event I've made a real effort to do "low impact". We used real plates, napkins & utensils (no disposables), mason jars of cold water in the cooler, and as much locally sourced or homemade food as possible. It was tricky, took a bit more work, and I cheated a bit here & there (hello broccoli salad & cans of pop), but felt super satisfied by the end of the day. Only a half full bag of garbage to throw out after feeding more than 15 people :-)
This is the first event I’ve made a real effort to do “low impact”. We used real plates, napkins & utensils (no disposables), mason jars of cold water in the cooler, and as much locally sourced or homemade food as possible. It was tricky, took a bit more work, and I cheated a bit here & there (hello broccoli salad & cans of pop), but felt super satisfied by the end of the day. Only a half full bag of garbage to throw out after feeding more than 15 people 🙂
The kiddos got much use out of these. We put them on tree watering duty. SUPER helpers!
The kiddos got much use out of these. We put them on tree watering duty. SUPER helpers!
Volunteers got to choose a tree to adopt. We've measured each tree and will send growth updates over the coming years. (Little Rylin did so well amongst all those boys. She even had fun picking up dirt, a first for her).
Volunteers got to choose a tree to adopt. We’ve measured each tree and will send growth updates over the coming years. (Little Rylin did so well amongst all those boys. She even had fun picking up dirt, a first for her).
Super helpers Joanna and Soren with their hazelnut tree!
Super helpers Joanna and Soren with their hazelnut tree!
Little helpers here & there! Thanks boys!
Little helpers here & there! Thanks boys!
We hope everyone had as much fun as Shauna! She's anxious for us to get moved out to the farm so she can come visit. Looking forward to it too, Shauna!
We hope everyone had as much fun as Shauna! She’s anxious for us to get moved out to the farm so she can come visit. Looking forward to it too, Shauna!

Hundreds of Happy Trees

400 hazelnuts tucked into a trench awaiting Tree Planting Day
400 hazelnuts tucked into a trench awaiting Tree Planting Day

Have I mentioned our crazy plan of planting an acre of food forest out on our “big farm”? And when I say “crazy”, I mean it’s driving us a fairly crazy. Wowza! Hubby started feeling in over his head about two weeks ago and we’re seriously in the thick of it now! This is all a part our of Happiness By the Acre adventures.

We had 400 hazelnut trees arrive last week. We’ll be picking up 400 raspberry bushes, and a few dozen apple & pear trees at the end of this week. Yep, that’s over 800 plants to be planted. Oh boy…

That's what an acre of land looks like. Now picture it covered in a beautiful food forest (or food savannah as Marcus keeps correcting me)
That’s what an acre of land looks like. Now picture it covered in a beautiful food forest (or food savannah as Marcus keeps correcting me)

So we’re organizing a Tree Planting Day! On Saturday, May 24th, we’ll be trying to get ALL those plants into the ground out on our farm near Carstairs. If you’re interested in lending a hand & spending some time out in the country this weekend, let me know or check out our event page on Facebook. We’ll be providing tasty treats and cold drinks. Come for an hour or come for the day! Kids are more than welcome.

Sammy_with_shovel

This is your chance to be a small part of our family farm history in our very first project. And as a thank you to all the folks who come out to lend a hand, we will be letting each volunteer adopt a tree of their choice. Attach your name to a bit of history. Get your picture taken with your little tree and we’ll send you growth updates as the years progress. Plus you can pop by and check on your tree the next time you visit the farm.

I hope that some of you can join us on Saturday! If not, we could sure use some extra prayers to see this project through.

I’ll be sure to post photos from Tree Planting Day and let you know how it all goes. Until then, we’ll be continuing to run around a little crazed, checking things off the to-do lists, and praying for plenty of sunshine, and more importantly, that we can find a bobcat operator with an auger to dig 800 holes by Saturday. Oi!

Happy food pt. 1

Quit the wrong stuff

We started overhauling the types of food we buy a few years ago, when hubby went low-carb. Since then, we have continued to make small changes, searching out local suppliers, opting for organic varieties here & there, less sugar on occasion, more fat all the time, meat, meat & more meat, and trying to align our kitchen with the seasons.

I’ve felt compelled to make more changes lately. We recently switched over to buying 80% of our weekly groceries at Community Natural Foods. That’s a pretty big change for a gal who has shopped at Safeway since her birth. We still pick up a some things at Safeway that we haven’t figured out alternatives for. Maybe at some point we will or learn to go without. Slow steady changes.

It really does come down to quality over quantity. Our personal farming motto is “good food, happy people”. It just feels like the right time to live out that philosophy more fully. It’s not a change that can happen overnight. We’ve known that from the beginning. And I certainly don’t recommend that you try to change all your eating & buying habits overnight. You need to believe in the changes that you make. Each and every one of them. It can take time & careful consideration. You need to weigh your own personal priorities & passions.

When it comes to food, the two big considerations for us is the distance it has traveled and just how healthy it truly is. In other words, our first priority is locally sourced food. Our second priority is organic. Local organic is the ultimate goal, besides growing & raising it ourselves. Of course, we’re not perfect. We make plenty of compromises along the way, but bit by bit, we’re trying to change.

The quote above from Seth Godin is so appropriate for this lifestyle overhaul. We will try to quit the “wrong” stuff, and stick with the “right” stuff. I thought I would make this a new post series on the blog, documenting how we choose to do one or the other on our quest for happy food. We’re all hungry for it in our own ways.

Happy Trails

Alberta farm t-shirts by Ole Originials

Last month we had the pleasure of taking part in the Alberta Open Farm Days by visiting Trail’s End ranch (just south of Nanton). The ranch we’ve been buying our “happy cow” beef from for the past few years, A7 Ranche, recently partnered with Trail’s End. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to check things out. Of course, Sam loved watching all the animals, especially the chickens. He spent the morning running from one critter to the next (and then he spent the entire drive home “clucking” in the back seat). It was nice to meet Rachel & Tyler, and see their home. They’re hip to the social media, so we’ve also been enjoying following things at the ranch on Facebook. We’ve even been invited back down to take a better look at the pastures and beef operation on the main ranch, which we are tickled about. We’re getting ourselves, Sam include, exposed bit by bit to this business of farming. Do check out our main farm blog for Happiness by the Acre, where hubby Marcus has been taking on the role of blogger. Until we have our own critters to take pics of, you just have to settle for a little photo tour of Trail’s End ranch 😉

Chicken watching
My boys doing a little chicken flock watching

Hen at Trail's End ranch

Trail's End ranch cattle

Trail's End ranch cattle 2

Sam & Marcus at Trail's End ranch
Future farmer? I sure hope so.

Greener pastures

Well over a month ago, we ventured out to our farm for a little visit. Thought I would share some photos with you. It’s a 150 acres just outside of Carstairs, being leased for grain farming. No buildings currently on it, but one day it will be our home. Until then, we’ll pop out for visits when we can and watch it change through the seasons.

Hubby recently set-up a Facebook page and a website for our Happiness By the Acre business. We hope to do small scale market gardening in an urban setting over the next few years while we continue to live in Calgary and then transition this into a larger farming business and lifestyle once we move out into the country. So many adventures to come! Oh and don’t worry, the crafting will continue. For without crafts, where would I be?

Here’s a peek at the farm…

Farmland

Crops growing

Marcus on farm

Country road